TiSA, not as known as the highly mediatised Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), is one of the largest trade agreement ever negotiated. Formally started in 2013, it is very wide reaching (a priori no sector is excluded except for the core governmental one) and concerns 23 members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), including the European Union, representing in total 70% of the world trade in services.
Regarding the fear among many European citizens about the unclear consequences of TiSA on public services and the possibility that it lowers social and labour standards, the debate at CESI intended to clarify the issues at stake. On the one hand, CESI Secretary General Klaus Heeger and Social Platform President Heather Roy expressed their respective worries, while on the other, Viviane Reding, as EP rapporteur for TiSA, and Mr. Iruarrizaga in his capacity as chief negotiator of the European Commission underlined that TiSA would neither lead to lower protection levels nor to privatisations of any kind.
Heather Roy, representing both users and providers of public services, raised her concerns that public services may be increasingly treated as commodity, and that the quality of services may be suffering from competition. She also stressed the need for clarity and safeguards in the agreement in order to ensure the accessibility of public services for territorial and social cohesion.
According to Viviane Reding, the agreement is unique and very important for Europe. Indeed – if well negotiated – it would be good for European services. However, public services should be excluded because they are “jewels rooted in our DNA” and their protection is a constitutional obligation enshrined in European treaties and protocols.
Ms. Reding underlined that TiSA as such could and would never contradict EU and national laws. With regards to transparency, she pointed out that almost all documents are now available, except for the council´s mandate. She stressed that full transparency is the best basis for negotiations and all interested parties, including the civil society and the trade unions should have the occasion to share their views.
According to Ignacio Iruarrizaga, TiSA chief negotiator of the European Commission, the agreement is “an area where there is to win”, as the agreement, similar to the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) negotiated 20 years ago, comprises several restrictions to protect public services. “Public services are not sold out in any way, the provision of public services remains fully in the hands of local, regional and national governments.”
Klaus Heeger, Secretary General of the CESI, highlighted the importance of social and labour standards to prevent social dumping. Referring to the potential threat TiSA may have on public services, he highlighted that free trade -as consequence of freedom and democracy- is basically good, but that trade deals de facto often lead to liberalisation and privatisation, which puts them per se in a strained relationship to public services. Great care is therefore needed and it is essential to make sure that public services of general interest are safe and unequivocally excluded from the scope of the agreement.
To conclude, the participants agreed on the necessity to clarity the scope of the agreement. Politicians, the civil society, trade unions and the media should therefore reach consensus on a service trade agreement which would leave protection standards and public services untouched.
All participants therefore highlighted the fact, that a general exemption clause for public services would represent a major step forward in establishing trust and support for the agreement.